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New medicine could treat hundreds of thousands of patients with tuberculosis

A TEAM of researchers led by scientists at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) has developed a new treatment for tuberculosis (TB), which could has the potential to be scaled-up and mass-produced for clinical testing.

The treatment, which patients would take using an inhaler, works by reducing the bacteria in the lungs that causes tuberculosis while also helping the patient's immune system fight the disease.

TB was prevalent in Ireland in the early-to-mid 20th century. Today it remains common in some parts of the world, especially Africa and South-East Asia.

"Tuberculosis is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide," according to the World Health Organization (WHO). "Ten million people fell ill with TB and 1.6 million died from the disease in 2017."

Funded by the Health Research Board and the Royal City of Dublin Hospital Trust, the research is published in the European Journal of Pharmaceutics & Biopharmaceutics.

Dr Gemma O'Connor and Prof Sally-Ann Cryan of RCSI led the work and collaborated with research teams in St James Hospital, Trinity College Dublin and Imperial College London.

Multidrug-resistant TB is seen as a public health crisis. Ending the TB epidemic by 2030 is listed among the health targets of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The pathogen that causes tuberculosis spreads by people breathing infected droplets into their lungs, where the disease can remain dormant or spread further. The research uses a derivative of Vitamin A called all trans retinoic acid, atRA, which previous studies have shown is an effective treatment for tuberculosis.

"Many cases of TB are now becoming resistant to existing antibiotics. This new treatment could be used alongside antibiotics to treat drug-resistant TB and also possibly reduce the rate of antibiotic resistance resulting from conventional antibiotic treatments," said Prof Cryan, associate professor of Pharmaceutics in RCSI School of Pharmacy and the study's senior author.

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